If there’s a real test of Hindus, ’tis here, ’tis here

It originates from the Himalayas, travels 1,600 miles across the plains, and empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is said to be the earthly incarnation of a diety. In the Ramayana, Lord Vishnu says, “Man becomes pure by the touch of the water, or by consuming it, or by expressing its name.”

For more than two millennia, it has been revered by millions as a symbol of spiritual purity. Devout Hindus can’t speak enough of its therapeutic powers: they want to touch the water, rub their bodies in the water, sip the water. The Beatles spent three months on its banks at Rishikesh.

Yet, what explains the current plight of the Ganga? The contempt, the disrespect we show toward it?

Ten to twelve million gallons of raw sewage full of fecal microorganisms responsible for typhoid, cholera and amoebic dysentery enter it each day. The toxic runoffs from the leather factories has chromium sulphate, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, sulfuric acid, chemical dyes and heavy metals. Dead bodies are dumped into it.

In the November issue of the Smithsonian magazine, Joshua Hammer writes:

Sickened, I climb back into the rowboat. As we near the tanneries, a dozen boys frolic in the water, splashing in the river’s foulest stretch. Rakesh Jaiswal calls them over.

“Why do you swim in the river?” I ask one of the boys. “Aren’t you worried?”

He shrugs. “We know it’s poisonous,” he says, “but after we swim we go wash off at home.”

“Do you ever get ill?”

“We all get rashes,” he replies, “but what can we do?”

Walking back toward the main road, Rakesh Jaiswal seems despondent. “I would never have imagined the River Ganga could get like this, with stinking water, green and brown colored,” he says. “It’s pure toxic muck.”

Read the full article: A prayer for the Ganges